First in Style
Despite the decline of first class across the airline industry, American Airlines still strives to offer the ultimate flying experience in its First-Class cabin on its Transpacific flights between the US and Asia, discovers Nick Walton.
American Airlines offers the only true international first-class product in North America, extending its premium product to its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft flying between Asia and Dallas and Los Angeles.
Check In/The Lounge
After an efficient check in process I made my way to American Airlines’ Admirals Club and its makeshift Flagship Lounge, a space reserved for first class passengers while the new lounge is under construction. This is a basic but serenely quiet space, with armchairs, bar tables, work stations, and a buffet selection in an adjacent room. There’s a great bar set up, a busy coffee machine, and access to well-maintained shower suites. The new-look Flagship Lounge, when it opens at the end of the year, promises to be spectacular, offering restaurant-style dining, make-your-own-cocktail stations, and dedicated shower suites.
We were first to board the 777-300ER, which featured eight first class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. American Airlines’ Flagship Suite seat is spacious, modern and elegant; it looks like something you’d find in a private jet, with plush leather, plenty of storage space, a 17-inch personal monitor, and multiple seat configurations – turn it towards the spacious shelf and you have a desk, turn towards your seat mate (in the case of centre seats) and you have dining for two. There’s a built-in USB-equipped recess for smartphones; a pair of international AC sockets; and blissful AA branded Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
Once passengers found their seats, cheerful but slightly flustered crew served glasses of sparkling wine (I opted to wait for the Laurent Pierrer Grand Siecle Champagne on the menu), warm smoked almonds, stylish leather amenity kits by Cole Haan (although they were not the airline’s new international version) and sets of signature pajamas.
American Airlines has worked hard to offer a market-leading dining experience in first class, with a menu of small dishes that allows passengers the chance to linger their way through a multi-course meal paired with world-class wines selected by Intervine and Ken Chase. Unfortunately, as he took orders the purser persuaded each passenger not to order multiple small dishes, but to simply choose an appetiser and main. I opted for a heirloom tomato salad with Italian buffalo milk mozzarella and macadamia pesto; followed by King Salmon and prawns with champagne risotto and pumpkin, which I matched with a Pascal Jolivet Les Terres Blanches from Pouilly-Fume. I skipped dessert, which included a choice of the airline’s signature ice cream sundae; mixed berry pavlova; and poached pear with warm red wine sauce. Breakfast, served 90 minutes before arrival included the choice of an American breakfast with scrambled eggs, Applewood bacon and roasted potatoes; chow mein noodles with beef brisket; or a continental breakfast of yogurt and granola.
The dinner dishes were well proportioned and perfectly nice, but I hazard a guess the overall dining experience would have been much better if offered the way it was designed.
American Airlines’ entertainment system is one of its leading drawcards and the ability to not only connect to wifi (unlimited for US$19) but also connect your own device is great. Even after multiple long-haul flights with the airline over a space of a few months I still found plenty of television shows and movies to enjoy.
Even in first class, where American Airlines’ crew should be performing at their peak, service still needs refinement and consistency. Some cabin attendants had finesse and whisked passengers away to the golden era of flying, with a great understanding of the wine list and a sense of pedigree you’d expect in a fine-dining restaurant; others didn’t seem to see a distinction between cabins and brutishly fussed through the dinner service like they were working coach. When it came to getting some sleep, passengers made up their own beds, while crew retreated to the galley, staying there for much of the flight.
What We Loved
I can honestly say this was the most comfortable seat I’ve ever slept in. I also love the overall intuitive design.
What We Didn’t
As a big fan of American’s business class product, I find first class to lack privacy. Service needs a shakeup.
American Airlines has all the competitive hardware components to offer a world-class product, but the airline’s cabin crew need to get onboard. Even with its compelling business class product, the carrier’s first-class offering would maintain the old-world charms of flying’s luxury heyday, and seduce premium travellers in the process, if only it was executed as it was intended.
American Airlines Hong Kong-Los Angeles in First Class from US$7,052; www.aa.com